MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you are heading to the movies this weekend to see "The Angry Birds Movie 2," then you are in for a double treat - playing before the feature is an animated short called "Hair Love." Conceived and directed by Matthew Cherry, it follows the story of an African American father - Stephen - and his daughter, Zuri. Dad is trying to learn how to do young Zuri's glorious natural hair, and, well, it's not so easy. Matthew Cherry is with us now from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Matthew Cherry, thank you so much for joining us. congratulations.
MATTHEW CHERRY: Oh, thank you so much. It's an honor to be talking to you.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for saying that. I mean, one of the reasons this project is so exciting is that you raised the money through a Kickstarter which actually exceeded all expectations. Tell me, why that approach?
CHERRY: You know, it was - I've done a couple of Kickstarter campaigns before with both of my indie films. And I always looked at it more as a way to kind of build a fan base, less so than the actual financing of it all. You know, it kind of allows you to, as a filmmaker, to kind of announce that you're doing something but in, like, a non kind of braggadocious way. And it kind of allows people who, you know, may want to be involved or kind of see the project through to help out. And so it just seemed like a - the obvious first step for us. And it ended up becoming the highest-funded Kickstarter campaign for a short film.
MARTIN: So what is it that you think people are responding to? I have to say that, I mean, look - the little girl is absolutely adorable. The dad has locks, and he's struggling with the hair.
MARTIN: It's just hard for me to describe, but the hair, for anybody who's tried to do little black girl hair, it's very accurate. It kind of has a life of its own.
MARTIN: But what do you think it is that people are responding to?
CHERRY: You know, I think it's a couple of things. You know, I think representation is the biggest thing. You know, when we did this campaign two years ago, there wasn't a lot of representation in animated projects. You know, oftentimes they would cast actors of color but, you know, they'd be playing inanimate objects or animals. And, you know, it was rarely, like, actually seeing a family dynamic in animation. Obviously, there was, like, "Princess And The Frog" and that Rihanna movie, "Home."
But I just thought it'd be nice to be able to see a black family in that space because animation is one of the most wide-appealing genres. And I think it does also a lot for young people's confidence when they see themselves represented. You know, media is so powerful. And when you grow up and see magazine covers and TV shows and movies and you don't see yourself represented, but you see every other type of hairstyle represented, you know, that can really affect your self-confidence.
MARTIN: Well, what about you, though? Because it's my understanding - forgive me for getting personal here - but I don't think you have children of your own right now.
CHERRY: No, I don't.
MARTIN: Am I right? OK. So this isn't like a personal experience of you as a dad, you know, wrestling with your little girl's hair. But I do get the sense that it was important to you to show a man in a loving, tender role.
CHERRY: Yeah. Yeah, you know, and even more specifically, a black man because we really get a bad rap in mainstream media, particularly black fathers, you know. There's always the stereotype that, you know, we're not present or deadbeats, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And while obviously those situations do exist, it feels very much so that it's just like disproportionately represented in that way.
And, you know, I have a lot of friends that are young fathers, and they're all willing to do whatever it takes for their young girls. And, you know, this was just kind of me put myself in their shoes and kind of representing and also really being inspired by all these viral videos of dads doing their daughter's hair and people just really being fascinated by that.
MARTIN: I want to mention that before the film and the book, you were executive producer on "BlacKkKlansman." You've done commercials. You've done music videos. Before that, you played in the NFL.
CHERRY: (Laughter) Yeah.
MARTIN: So kind of a varied background.
MARTIN: Why film? Why was that the path you chose after you decided to stop playing professionally?
CHERRY: You know, I was always interested in storytelling. You know, in grade school, I was a part of the Tv club and the radio club. I actually majored in radio TV broadcasting in college. I went to The University of Akron on a football scholarship. So, you know, I always knew that when I retired from the NFL that I had to figure out what my next phase of my life was going to be because most guys retire in their mid-20s, and that's what I did. So I decided to move to LA. I became a production assistant, a PA, was moving directors' chairs around and getting talent out of their trailers and bringing them to set. It's just been really a gradual progression, and this is my first foray in animation.
MARTIN: I bet you were very persuasive in getting talent out of their trailers onto the set. Did you experience...
CHERRY: Not initially.
MARTIN: No? It didn't come in handy?
CHERRY: Yeah. I mean, you would think that would be an easy thing, but man, you know, that's why they have somebody for that. You know, it definitely becomes a thing trying to get people out their trailer. They're nice and comfy.
MARTIN: Well, did you have any other experiences in the NFL that kind of helped prepare you for the role you do now? I'm taking not doing hair probably doing - doing hair probably wasn't one of those tasks since you all wear helmets, but...
CHERRY: Yeah. I mean, but look. You know, I had natural hair. You know, I remember when I was in the league, I had my hair long enough to where it could be braided. And, you know, every week I'd have to go and get it worked on and stuff. So, you know, I think for both men and women it's definitely something that's a big part of our life. But, you know, in terms of the connection between NFL and filmmaking, it's all very team-oriented.
You know, I always make that comparison because it's like, you know, in the league, it's like you're really responsible for your one job. And you can run a perfect route. But if the lineman messes up, then the quarterback is sacked, and you don't get the ball. But - and it's similar in filmmaking. You know, everything has to be perfect for you to get that perfect take. You could be directing the actor perfectly. They could recite the line perfectly. But if the camera's out of focus, you've got to go back and do it again. So it's very much - it's kind of getting a group of people together and getting everybody on the same page with your vision to make something great.
MARTIN: So have you heard from fathers who've read the book or perhaps may have seen the trailer or have seen a bit of a short? What are they telling you about it?
CHERRY: The thing that's been the most amazing about this project is that it's really been a little bit of everybody. You know, it's been young girls, it's been young boys who see themselves in Stephen. It's been obviously fathers, it's been mothers. You know, it's been parents that aren't African American. You know, it's just been really this wide net that has been really able to connect with it. And I think that's the really awesome thing about being in front of a film that plays as wide as "Angry Birds 2" is that, you know, we're able to kind of get this in front of an audience that may not have been able to see it originally. And kind of vice versa, we're able to bring a little bit of our audience to them as well.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations.
CHERRY: Thank you.
MARTIN: Can you do hair now?
CHERRY: You know what? I definitely can. I've been watching more than enough hair vlogs to make sure that the short and the book are accurate. So, yeah, I could do a little something.
MARTIN: OK. We won't put you to the test today.
MARTIN: Hopefully, maybe you'll send us some pictures.
CHERRY: Well, you guys have a mannequin sitting right here. I thought I was going to do some hair. No, I'm just joking.
MARTIN: That was Matthew Cherry. He's the creative force and the director behind the new animated short "Hair Love." It's showing before "The Angry Birds Movie 2." He was with us from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. I do want to mention there's also a book of the same name by Matthew Cherry with illustrations by Vashti Harrison. Matthew A. Cherry, thank you so much for joining us.
CHERRY: Thank you so much for having me, had a great time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.